Iraqi military forces and Peshmerga troops, pictured, clashed Thursday at a border crossing to Syria that is the United States' only access point for military operations within Syria. File Photo by Spc. Jessica Hurst/U.S. Army/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 26 (UPI) -- Iraqi troops clashed with Kurdish forces on Thursday at a crossing on the Syrian border the U.S. military considers essential for its Middle East operations.
The fight is part of Baghdad's attempt to control all territory in Kurdistan -- an oil-rich, semiautonomous area that voted in a referendum last month to secede from Iraq.
Iraq's military action Thursday is part of a government-wide attempt to restrain Kurds from moving forward with plans for independence -- similar to a non-military confrontation that's brewing between Spain and Catalonia. On Thursday, the day after the Kurdish government offered to freeze the referendum results, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said nothing less than a complete cancellation of the referendum was acceptable to maintain Iraq's territorial integrity.
Iraqi forces, supported by militias allied with Iran, began Thursday's assault on Kurdish Peshmerga troops at a crossing on the Iraqi-Syrian border that provides the only access in the area for U.S. military operations.
A long fight between Iraqis and Kurds at the crossing could disrupt U.S. military activity and damage humanitarian attempts to aid 300,000 refugees who left Raqqa, Syria -- as Islamic State forces fought for, then abandoned, the city.
Officials said Iraqi troops left Zummar early Thursday and began shelling Kurdish Peshmerga targets. Jamal Imniki, the Peshmerga chief of staff, told Kurdistan's Rudaw News that it was an "intensive bombardment," though he said there was no advancement by the Iraqi side. Imniki added that the Iraqi military was attacking on multiple fronts.
Kurdistan's Security Council, the KRG, asked Baghdad on Thursday to "withdraw all forces from nearby areas and accept its offer for unconditional talks to settle political differences." The suggestion was rebuffed by the Iraqi government, as have similar peace offerings extended by Kurdistan since the September referendum.